A true chronicler of our age, Martin Parr has been exploring the concepts of leisure, consumption and communication for several decades. Approaching these subjects with criticism, seduction and wry humor, his photographs so perceptively show us not only how we live, but also how we present ourselves to others.
His seminal photobook The Last Resort: Photographs of New Brighton captures the everyday reality of an urban seaside resort on the Wirral Peninsula, three miles from Liverpool, revealing it as run down but very much alive. Taken between 1983 and 1985, a period of economic decline in Northwest England, these images show a country in a state of decay but still finding pleasure where it could.
A popular resort in the early 20th century, New Brighton had already lost its shine in the 1960s when most of the sand on its beaches disappeared due to the tidal changes. Taken in the midst of Thatcherism, which deteriorated the country’s society as a whole, Parr’s images capture the “great British seaside” in all its garish glory. They show the litter-strewn, concrete promenade, overcrowded beaches and fast-food joints, thrills of video arcades and beauty competitions, revealing stories within stories within the confines of every frame.
When it was first exhibited in 1986, this body of work was heavily criticized for its perceived satire, being described as voyeuristic and cruel. However, Parr maintained that he was more interested in the truisms of everyday life that all people must deal with. Infused with a sense of warmth, honesty and familiarity, Parr’s images can be seen as a testament to our basic human resilience—our eternal struggle to make the best of our circumstances, no matter our economic or social strata.
As Parr’s early experiment with color and daylight flash, The Last Resort has set the tone for his whole career and kickstarted the stylistic revolution that changed the course of British documentary photography. Ever since, the beach remained the photographer’s fruitful laboratory for testing out new ideas. "The beach is always going to be an integral part of what I do—it just goes on and on,” Parr explained.
The latest edition of Martin Parr’s The Last Resort: Photographs of New Brighton can be purchased in the Martin Parr Foundation's online shop for £30.00 in hardcover.
Photo credits: New Brighton, England, 1983-85 from the series The Last Resort © Martin Parr / Magnum Photos